From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Lawyers move to protect church assets after pastor leaves
31 May 2000 13:05:12
May 31, 2000 News media contact: Tim Tanton·(615)742-5470·Nashville, Tenn.
By Dean Snyder*
WASHINGTON (UMNS) -- Lawyers representing the United Methodist Church's
Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference have filed suit and asked for a
restraining order to protect the assets of a church in Saint Leonard, Md.,
following an announcement that the pastor and his followers are leaving the
Tom Starnes, an attorney with Andrews & Kurth LLP of Washington, filed the
lawsuit on behalf of the conference and members of the congregation of
Brooks United Methodist Church who wish to remain loyal to the denomination.
The Rev. Aniachi C. Belu-John had been pastor of Brooks since 1994. Church
members say Belu-John was displeased by a district board's request for
additional information about a proposed building addition to the church
before approving the plans, according to Starnes. "Apparently he didn't want
to go through what he regarded as red tape."
"I am disappointed that Rev. Belu-John has decided to leave the United
Methodist Church," said Bishop Felton Edwin May, who leads the annual
conference. "Our most pressing concern is to make sure that the United
Methodist Church continues a vital ministry to the people of Saint Leonard
in the name of Jesus Christ."
May announced that the Rev. C. Anthony Hunt, executive director of the
Northeastern Jurisdiction Multi-Ethnic Center for Ministry, will become the
interim pastor of the congregation, effective immediately.
The Brooks congregation met under Hunt's leadership at neighboring Waters
Memorial United Methodist Church in Saint Leonard May 28, for worship and a
More than 90 Brooks members who had heard about the service by word of mouth
and who want to remain loyal to the United Methodist Church filled a
classroom while the Waters Memorial congregation met in the sanctuary for
The Brooks members decided to hold future Sunday services at Mt. Olive
United Methodist Church in Saint Leonard until the disposition of its
property and assets is settled in court.
Starnes is confident that Brooks United Methodist Church will keep its
property. "We will recover the property for the people of Brooks Church," he
said. "The law is clearly on the side of the Brooks congregation, who have
been faithful Methodists since 1906. They are very calmly and patiently
allowing us to settle the matter through due legal proceedings."
"I feel kind of cheated - we should be there -- but there is no doubt in my
mind that we will be back in that church," said Maude Bourne, Brooks' lay
delegate to annual conference. She said those leaving the denomination were
dissatisfied with the conference.
"My biggest concern is that we still love the people next door," said Vaughn
Johnson, 49, who has attended Brooks Church since he was a child. "We've got
family and friends over there. We're just two different communes right now."
Bishop May said he was pleased that the United Methodists of Brooks Church
have taken action to protect the assets of their church. "We will fully
support the congregation with our prayers and presence as it seeks to
continue in vital United Methodist ministry."
According to the tradition and policies of the United Methodist Church and
the laws of the state of Maryland, if a pastor or members of a congregation
leave the denomination, the church's property remains with those members who
choose to continue as a United Methodist church.
Ernestine E. Johnson, 83, who attended the Brooks service at Waters
Memorial, said she wanted to return to the building where she had worshipped
for more than 50 years, but only when it resumed United Methodist ways of
doing things. "I'm hoping to go back to our church when it's like it used to
be again," she said.
Brooks Church is about 25 miles south of Brandywine, Md., where the Rev. C.
Anthony Muse served as pastor of the Resurrection Prayer Worship Center of
the United Methodist Church until he withdrew from the denomination last
November. Muse left behind an unfinished building with a $6 million
indebtedness to begin a nondenominational church in a converted supermarket.
Last year, Brooks United Methodist Church reported 571 members with an
average weekly worship attendance of 375. The sanctuary, however, only holds
about 250 people and the church has not offered multiple services, according
to conference officials.
# # #
*Snyder is director of communications for the United Methodist Church's
Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference.
United Methodist News Service
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